We Can’t Even Get The Australia Day We Have Right

Written by:
27 September 2018
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Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie is only the latest politician to mistakenly suggest that Australia Day celebrates the arrival of Captain Cook on our shores, as reported in her hometown paper, here. This was in the context of responding to the Prime Minister’s idea that Australia Day’s status could be preserved while another day is selected to honour our indigenous peoples.

One Australian politician who would have been horrified by the apparent gaffe is former NSW Premier, Sir Joseph Carruthers, whose political philosophy and role in Australia’s liberal heritage was captured in this article by my colleague, Dr Zachary Gorman, in the August 2018 edition of the IPA Review.

Carruthers was fascinated by the English explorer, Captain James Cook, and raised funds to have him memorialised in Sydney, in London, and in Hawaii. In 1930, only two years before he died, Carruthers produced Captain James Cook R.N.: One Hundred and Fifty Years After.

Also to mark the sesquicentenary of Cook’s death, Carruthers had represented Australia at the dedication of a bronze tablet in the surf at Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, with the inscription “Near this spot Capt. James Cook met his death Feb. 14, 1779”. The memorial to Cook, built earlier, can be seen here. Carruthers’ role in the commemoration, as part of a global committee, is described here.

The current Commonwealth Government has also chosen to honour Cook’s memory and his connection to Australia, and particularly his first landing at Australia, in Botany Bay, on 29 April 1770. In April 2018, it joined with the NSW Government to announce plans to upgrade facilities at the landing site (which happens to be in the electorate of the then Treasurer, now Prime Minister, Scott Morrison MP). This is apparently part of wider commemorations planned to mark the 250th anniversary of Cook’s first Pacific voyage, in which he reached Australia via Tahiti and New Zealand and mapped the east coast of ‘New South Wales’, claiming it formally in the name of King George III, on 22 August 1770.

Senator McKenzie clearly missed the Media Release issued by way of a critical response in the name of Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, as well as the subsequent media coverageSenator Hanson-Young’s Media Release said,  “Despite an important national debate about changing the date of Australia Day away from Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay, the government has decided to spend taxpayer money it is stripping from the ABC on yet another monument to Captain Cook on the land of the Dharawal people.” (Media reports also indicated the release was issued by a staffer, and Senator Hanson-Young had not read it).

It is not only Sir Joseph Carruthers who would be disappointed elected officials (and/or their advisers) could appear to be so confused between the voyages of Captain Cook and the arrival of Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet 18 years later. The case for historical education and a solid understanding of our British inheritance remains strong.

Readers interested in how Captain Cook laid the groundwork for Arthur Phillip will also be interested in Keith Windschuttle’s reviewof a fascinating new book, Lying for the Admiralty (Rosenberg, Sydney, 2018), relevant to the topic.

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